What? A Battle To Save Cursive Writing?

Gene Marbach

Given all the news of late, perhaps you may have missed this one… The battle to save cursive writing… Scoff, if you’d like, but this is getting serious, folks…  Bet you didn’t know that January 23rd was deemed National Handwriting Day (I wonder how the celebration went, perhaps it featured people dressed as pens parading around town). 

To drive home the [pen] point, the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation has launched the “Campaign for Cursive,” an effort designed to bring recognition to teaching of cursive handwriting. 

The American Handwriting Analysis Foundation (AHAF), a 48 year-old non-profit organization, is encouraging the return of cursive handwriting to the U.S. public school system. On January 23rd, National Handwriting Day, they launched a new website, Campaign For Cursive. “The website will promote awareness of the need to keep handwriting in the curriculum, and show kids that handwriting is cool,” stated Sheila Lowe, President of the foundation. 

I reflected on my own experience with cursive writing… Having attended a Catholic grade school, I remember the nuns drilling us on cursive writing often with a yardstick for some added motivation.  Ballpoint pens were verboten as we used fountain pens and worked for what seemed like hours on making perfect circles and lines.  Given the current state of my handwriting, Sister Edgar is most likely doing somersaults in her grave.  My signature has been reduced to a squiggly line (a former assistant termed it the “Flying G”).  However, I’m not alone.  Should he be approved as Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew’s signature, which bears a resemblance to the “squiggle” of icing one finds on a Hostess cupcake, will adorn our nation’s money.  What is our world coming to? 

Clearly, the digital era has impacted our abilities with cursive writing.  It appears that we are returning to the days of the caveman given the use of abbreviations, symbols and the general lack of punctuation.  Try reading one of your teenagers’ text messages (perhaps they write in code to avoid interpretation by nosy parental units). 

According to the AHAF, more than 40 states have removed the requirement for handwriting training from the core curriculum of public schools. This might not sound like much of a problem in the digital age, where we spend so much time keyboarding; however, there are serious consequences to losing the skill of penmanship. 

The foundation notes thatMexicosuffered those consequences when, in the 1980s, its president abolished handwriting training from schools. Some twenty years later, education officials realized that handwriting was to the children’s benefit and in 2000 re-introduced it into the curriculum.

 The AHAF cites recent research at the University of Washington which reveals that areas of the brain having to do with learning, language, and working memory “light up” during cursive writing in ways that they do not with keyboarding or printed writing. Thus, public school children in theUSwho don’t learn handwriting are at a disadvantage when compared to children inMexico, or those who attend US private schools, for whom teaching handwriting is still seen as important. 

The group is supporting Senator Jean Leising of Indiana, whose bill to return cursive writing to the curriculum was approved by a state legislative committee and will be advanced to the full Senate.  In her support of the bill, she said, “Child psychologists, doctors and researchers have used neuro-imaging scans to show finger movement associated with handwriting activates regions in the brain linked to cognitive, language and even motor processes. In other words, cursive writing isn’t just a good ability to have. Instead, we are now hearing that handwriting skills are crucial for success in school, basic development and learning potential in general.”






  1. Kate Gladstone on January 29, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Handwriting matters … But does cursive matter?
    Research shows: the fastest and most legible handwriters join only some letters, not all of them — making the easiest joins, skipping the rest, and using print-like shapes for those letters whose cursive and printed shapes disagree. (Citations appear below.)
    Often, cursive programs and teachers strongly discourage such practices. Students learning cursive are taught to join all letters, and to use different shapes for cursive versus printed letters. (These requirements do not align with the research findings above.)
    When following the rules doesn’t work as well as breaking them, it’s time to re-write and upgrade the rules. The discontinuance of cursive offers a great opportunity to teach some better-functioning form of handwriting that is actually closer to what the fastest, clearest handwriters do anyway. (There are indeed textbooks and curricula teaching handwriting this way. Cursive and printing are not the only choices.)
    Reading cursive still matters — this takes just 30 to 60 minutes to learn, and can be taught to a five- or six-year-old if the child knows how to read. The value of reading cursive is therefore no justification for writing it.
    (In other words, we could simply teach kids to _read_ old-fashioned handwriting and save the year-and-a-half that are expected to be enough for teaching them to _write_ that way too … not to mention the actually longer time it takes to teach someone to perform such writing _well_.)
    Remember, too: whatever your elementary school teacher may have been told by her elementary school teacher, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over signatures written in any other way. (Don’t take my word for this: talk to any attorney.)


    /1/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub.
    1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf


    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer.
    1998: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    (NOTE: there are actually handwriting programs that teach this way.
    Shouldn’t there be more of them?)

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    and the World Handwriting Contest
    6-B Weis Road, Albany, NY 12208-1942 USA
    telephone 518-482-6763

    • genem on January 29, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      Hello Kate,

      Thank you for reading and your wonderful comment which certainly advances the discussion in a truly scholarly fashion.

      For the benefit of my readers (particulary those handwriting-challenged individuals), I encourage you to visit Kate’s site, which can be found in her signature.


  2. Sheila Lowe on January 29, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Thanks for posting the link to AHAF’s blog, Gene. The website we launched on the 23rd is actually http://www.cursiveiscool.com
    This is such an important topic, we appreciate you highlighting it.
    Sheila Lowe, President, American Handwriting Analysis Foundation

    • genem on January 30, 2013 at 8:23 am

      Hello Sheila,

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      While technological advances are wonderful for the most part, it appears that our society has lost (or is losing) many “arts” as a result.

      I applaud your group’s efforts. Do keep me apprised of developments.